To Ensure Your Project Is A Success Focus On The Define Phase

Posted by on May 3, 2020 in Define Phase, Lean Six Sigma, Six Sigma | 0 comments

The define phase of any Lean Six Sigma project is critical to its success.  It is the phase of DMAIC that makes or breaks a team’s ability to make rapid improvement.  Many of the project’s benchmarks are developed and formed in the define phase and a team’s failure to get it right can spell disaster as the project proceeds.  In myy experience as a Master Black Belt and consultant, here are some of the problems I’ve seen teams make in this important phase:

  • Failure to limit your project scope and allowing scope creep.  Even though much is taught about scoping a project correctly and avoiding scope creep, these are two of the most abused areas in Lean Six Sigma projects.  Teams tend to try to include as much as possible into their project and fail to realize that they can use a strategy of divide and conquer.  For example, a few years ago a client of mine called and told me about a Black Belt team that was struggling to make improvement in their accounts receivable project.  The client had thirteen major customers who together owed the company 6.3 million euros.  The team decided to scope the project to include all thirteen customers.  My suggestion was to focus the project on one customer, i.e., the one that owed them the most.  Mapping and analyzing a process for one customer is much easier to get your arms around than looking at all thirteen.  What you learn and implement as solutions can then be applied to the other twelve.  Scope creep often occurs when the team, sponsor, or champion decide to include additional investigation and analysis into the project.  If the project uncovers additional areas of opportunity, these should be documented and addressed as a separate project.
  • Unclear problem statement.  The problem or issue the team is trying to improve must be thoroughly understood in the define phase.  If this is unclear, then the team will struggle and fail to get to the root cause.
  • Unclear project goals and objectives.  Project goals and objectives should be SMART, i.e., Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.  Everyone on the team must understand and be committed to achieving the project goals and objectives.
  • Unclear project deliverables.  Project deliverables must be thoroughly understood by all team members, sponsors, and champions.
  • Not understanding your project stakeholders.  Stakeholders must be understood and their wants and needs considered.  A communication plan must be developed and implemented.  Stakeholders need to know how the project is proceeding and should never be left in the dark.
  • Too many project team members.  Keep you team to a small number of people.  If at all possible, keep it to four or less.  The more people on the team, the harder it is to achieve consensus and implement good solutions.
  • Not knowing what your resources and project needs are.  The team upfront should give thought to any resources and needs they think they may need to complete the project.  This may include technical resources, subject matter experts, special equipment, money, etc.
  • Not getting financial buy-in.  One criteria for most projects, usually expressed in the business case of the charter, is “how much is this project going to save us?”  My suggestion is to sit down with your financial person and discuss the potential savings before you commit yourself and the team.  Worse yet, it you go out on a limb and claim some huge savings and aren’t able to deliver you’ve lost your credibility.
  • Not having a documented project charter.  The charter is one of the most important documents in the project documentation.  It is the contract for what is expected from the team.  It includes all the items above in addition to the business case and a project time line.  It’s important to understand that the project charter is a dynamic document.  It can change especially as you get into the Measure and Analyze phases of the project.  Just make sure any changes are discussed with you project sponsor and champion in addition to any other stakeholders that need to approve them.
  • Failure to develop a communication plan.  Communicate, communicate, communicate!  Don’t be afraid to communicate as often as you can.  Every stakeholder has a need to know what’s going on.  Even fellow employees need to know what you’re working on to prevent any duplication of effort.

The following are the standard deliverables required in the Define phase:

  • Goal:  define the project’s purpose and scope.
  • Deliverables:  a clear statement of the intended improvement and how it will be measured.
  • Critical checkpoints:
    • Team members identified
    • Problem, issue, or gap identified and documented.
    • Key internal measures or performance indicators chosen and defined.
    • Clear goals established.
    • Customer needs identified, i.e., CTQs.
    • High level process map.

As a project team, you should be prepared to answer the following questions during a tollgate review or in conversation with a stakeholder:

  • What is the problem or gap you are addressing?
  • Why is this project important?
  • What are the key measures or performance indicators?
    • How are the measures or performance indicators defined?
    • How will you know if things improve?
    • What is the current performance level?
  • What are the major steps of the process you will be improving?
  • What impact will closing the gap or solving the problem have on customers?
  • What data do you have to understand customer requirements?
  • What are the boundaries, i.e., starting and ending points for this project?
  • Show me your project schedule and the milestones you and your team have established.

These are some (most) of the things you should consider in the Define phase of you Lean Six Sigma project.  As a team leader or a team member it is your responsibility to make sure your project gets off on the right foot!

Next week we’ll discuss the Measure phase of DMAIC.





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